Monthly Archives: March 2015

New York businesses observe Earth Hour

Many New York businesses participated in Earth Hour on March 28 by turning out and dimming lights to emphasize energy-efficiency awareness.  The Empire State Building dimmed its lights, while theaters on Broadway also toned down the neon.

Business Council member Verizon turned off the lights in nearly 500 of its buildings in 37 countries around the world. In all, Verizon darkened 25 million square feet of building space around the world—the equivalent of nearly 12 Empire State Buildings.

Since 2010, Verizon and its employees around the world have participated in the Earth Hour movement, helping the World Wildlife Fund to promote sustainable living, expand energy-efficiency awareness, and take a stand against climate change. Verizon promotes sustainability in its employee culture, encouraging participation in Earth Hour and community-environment events. As a result, thousands of employees — many of them among the 17,000 member Verizon Green Team, the company’s largest employee resource group—have pledged to darken their homes in 25 countries during Earth Hour 2015.

Please click here to watch as Verizon observes Earth Hour.

Commentary: Another way to make New Yorkers pay more for something they don’t want or need

Nobody enjoys receiving annoying automated “robocalls” or negative campaign mailers every time an election rolls around. Imagine if those same voters had to foot the bill for the overwhelming barrage of unwanted political solicitations through taxpayer-funded campaigns. Estimates of the impact to taxpayers ranges from $125 million to more than $300 million per election cycle.

That is money that could be better spent on schools, roads, bridges, public protection, or reduced taxes.

The proponents of public funding offer it as a panacea for addressing corruption and a way to invigorate democracy.

New York City has had public funding since 1988 and based on that experience, public funding misses the mark.

Public funding has done little to curb corruption; instead it has proven to be a new source of misdeeds. For example, last year, one New York City Council member was indicted for appropriating $11,500 in public matching funds through a shell company and a nonprofit that he controlled. Some of the taxpayer money that he siphoned off went to the purchase of a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag.

If voter turnout is a measure of a democracy’s strength, then public funding has failed that test as well. In the most recent New York City mayoral election, a record low 24 percent of registered voters participated. Barely 1 million of the 4.3 million registered voters cast a ballot in a city of nearly 8.5 million people.

Worse yet, taxpayer funded campaigns have not resulted in more competitive elections. Out of 51 New York City council general election races in 2013, only one was considered competitive. In 2009 races, only two general election races were considered competitive.
Some of the strongest voices in support of public funding are public employee unions, which are also advocating ”reforms” that would significantly limit the voice of business in the political process by reducing business contributions from the current $5,000 per candidate limit to $1,000. The largest single source of campaign spending has been labor organizations and in particular, public employee unions. These proposals do nothing to limit those contributions.

Public employee union political contributions in the election process should be of particular concern to the public. As Victor Gotbaum, a former leader of District Council 37 of the AFSCME in New York City once boasted: “We have the ability, in a sense, to elect our own boss.”

There are better approaches to reform. For example, the State Constitution should be amended to allow four-year legislative terms as a means to reduce the permanent campaign cycle and the seemingly endless cycle of fundraising.

Such a reform would produce real change without burdening taxpayers with additional government spending or unreasonably limiting political speech in the name of reform.

New tax to fund state health exchange faces questions from some lawmakers

Some lawmakers, and The Business Council of New York State, are challenging the Cuomo administration’s push for a new, $69 million annual tax to fund the state’s health exchange.

The Republican-led State Senate eliminated the proposed tax from its one-house budget.

Cuomo set up the exchange through an executive order after the Senate refused to consider creating it. The order Cuomo issued dictated that the exchange was to become self-sustaining by this coming fiscal year.

But lawmakers are questioning why the tax, which would be funded through an increase in the Health Care Reform Act (HCRA) assessments paid by insurers, is necessary and wondering whether the money to fund the exchange can be found within the $5.5 billion the HCRA tax already generates each year.

Heather C. Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council raised that question and other regarding the proposed new tax last week during a statewide television interview with Capital Tonight host Liz Benjamin.

State gaming commission approves request for applications for possible Southern Tier casino

The state’s Gaming Commission has approved a request for applications (R.F.A.) for new casino applicants in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region. The action gives final approval for bidders to seek a fourth and final casino license in New York’s upstate regions.

Capital New York’s Laura Nahmias reports the R.F.A. will be largely similar to the one used to select the three licenses the state’s casino siting board recommended awarding in three different regions last December. Two developers in the Southern Tier region were passed over in that selection process, and Southern Tier area lawmakers pressed Governor Andrew Cuomo to urge the Gaming Commission and the siting board to reopen bidding for the fourth license available under the state’s casino law.

In his letter, the Governor said the commission should start a process to accept new applications for the fourth and final casino license in the “true Southern Tier” after the region was passed over Dec. 17 for a facility in the Finger Lakes.

“Indeed, as this would be the last license issued in New York state, it may excite national competition by interested parties that submit even better applications than the first round,” Cuomo wrote.

Editorial: Ouster of reform-minded Regent puts politics before education

In an editorial, The Buffalo News says the ouster of long-time Western New York Regent Robert M. Bennett is, “a triumph of politics over education.”

Four new members of the Board of Regents were selected earlier this month by the State Legislature. The Regents are selected from regions across the state. Bennett, who had served for 20 years, withdrew his name from consider when it became apparent that he did not have support to be reconfirmed.

Quoting from the editorial:

“The machinations and intrigue that led Robert M. Bennett to withdraw from the effort to retain his seat on the Board of Regents deprive New Yorkers of a true champion of education, an advocate for learning by all students and a passion for the kind of reforms that education needs in New York – no matter how much the teachers unions and their lawmaker lackeys cluck otherwise.

“Bennett said all students can learn. Parents – some of them – said the sky was falling. Bennett said the Common Core learning standards would help make New York students competitive. Teachers and politicians – many of them – said the sky was falling. On Sunday, they ducked.

“With the news that Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, had engineered the nomination of Buffalo educator Catherine Collins and that new Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie would forward Collins’ name, Bennett bowed out and politics, rather than education, became the dominant consideration.

“Bennett was far and away the best choice for this seat. He deserves the thanks of all New Yorkers for his 20 years of service on the board. That is especially true of Western New Yorkers, whom the Tonawanda resident represented on the Board of Regents. He was perhaps the only public official that New Yorkers could trust implicitly. He had no agenda beyond providing the best possible education for New York students.”

Read the complete editorial here.

Energy tax repeal included in Senate Budget

With a little less than three weeks left before the April 1 deadline for passage of the FY 2016 state budget, both houses of the Legislature have now staked out their positions in one-house budget bills.

As one would expect, the Senate budget focuses more sharply on economic growth and job development. The Business Council was especially pleased to see a provision calling for the full repeal of the 18-a temporary assessment on electricity which adds millions of dollars in costs to all residential and commercial electric rates across the state.

Last week, The Business Council joined with the New York Alliance for Reliable Affordable Energy (NY-AREA) and the Independent Power Producer of New York (IPPNY) to support the repeal of 18-a.

Heather C. Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council made the case for repeal of the tax in this interview with NYSNYS.

Like much of Upstate, economic recovery hasn’t reached Southern Tier

In Sunday’s Binghamton Press Sun-Bulletin, reporter Jeff Platsky writes, “An economic black hole cuts through the middle of New York state.

“The nationwide economic recovery has largely bypassed an area from Utica-Rome to Syracuse and down to Binghamton and Elmira. Only Ithaca has pulled ahead and added jobs during the past 10 years.

“While metropolitan regions in the nation were boosting private-sector job counts at a brisk clip since the recession’s end, the job hemorrhage continued across central New York. And the situation may get worse before showing any signs of improvement.

An analysis of private sector employment in New York State last year by The Public Policy Institute (PPI) found jobs in the manufacturing sector declined by more than 40 percent during the period from November 2008 and November 2014.

“Job growth in upstate has lagged,” said Heather C. Briccetti, chief executive of the Albany-based The Business Council of New York. “And the losses have been in the higher wage sectors.”

“The loss of manufacturing jobs has killed upstate,” Briccetti said. “The business climate has made it very difficult to do business in upstate,” citing taxes, utility costs and regulations as the reasons for the flight of manufacturing jobs.”

In his article, Platsky points out the Southern Tier will have to find ways to reuse abandoned industrial sites for new development, possibly by using some of the $1.5 billion pledged for Upstate redevelopment in the Executive Budget.

A strategic plan being developed by the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council passes on a return to the manufacturing base. Rather, it values a knowledge-based approach concentrating on developing new industry around Binghamton University research, energy and pharmaceuticals, also centered on the university’s new pharmacy school now on the drawing board for Johnson City.

“Like it or not, the Southern Tier is going to have to transition to a new model,” said Gary Keith, a Buffalo-based economist for M&T Bank, adding that any future economic improvement will come in “singles and doubles, not home runs.”

Please click here to read to full story on Pressconnects.com

Another Voice: Proposed health insurance tax is unneeded and unwise

In an Op-Ed published last week by the Buffalo News, Business Council President and CEO Heather C. Briccetti, Esq. opposes a proposal in the Executive Budget which calls for a new tax on all fully insured health and dental insurance policies to help pay the cost of operating the state’s health insurance exchange.

In the Op-Ed, Briccetti writes, “New Yorkers are already reeling from new taxes imposed under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) as more than $1.7 billion was levied last year. It’s estimated that those taxes will grow and total more than $13 billion over the next 10 years. The governor’s budget would add to that burden as it calls for a new tax on all fully insured health and dental insurance policies to help fund the exchange.

“At a minimum, the tax will add $69 million in new costs to health insurance plans, a cost that will be reflected in higher premiums for customers. New Yorkers already pay some of the highest state taxes in the nation for health insurance, with more than $5 billion assessed each year.

“The governor has in the past called for funding the exchange through dedicated HCRA funding, a position that continues to make good sense based on the new revenues generated from millions of newly insured. New York can only sustain its exchange and foster economic development by better utilizing the dollars it currently raises. The state cannot and must not ask taxpayers to pay yet another new tax.”

To read the complete Op-Ed on the Buffalo News Website, please click here.

Business Council to join Small Business Day March 3

The Business Council of New York State will join with the National Federation of Independent Businesses/NY and a coalition of over a dozen pro-business organizations and associations to advocate for policies that protect and promote small business on March 3 at the New York State Capitol and Legislative Office Building.

“The Business Council is pleased to be part of Small Business Day 2015,” said Heather C. Briccetti, Esq., president and CEO. “New Yorkers need jobs, and small business is a job creation engine. We are participating in Small Business day to talk about issues that impose unnecessary costs and restrictions on small business and entrepreneurs, with the goal of improving the state’s overall business, investment and job creation climate.”

The Business Council’s legislative session priorities include holding state spending to under 2-percent growth, simplifying and easing the regulatory burden that large and small businesses face; reforming workers’ compensation regulations to reduce cost and preserve quality care repealing the state’s antiquated Scaffold Law by adopting a standard that assigns proportional negligence similar to that in place for other forms of liability.